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3 Films that Highlight Problems in Developing Countries

 Problems in Developing Countries
Making a film about the problems that people in developing countries struggle with often is not enough. It has to move people, make them talk and ideally influence change. Here are three films that highlight problems in developing countries and help change the world for the better.

“Desert Flower”

The film “Desert Flower” is based on the true story of Waris Dirie who experienced female genital mutilation (FGM) at 5 years old in Somalia. When she was 13, she escaped a forced marriage and ran away to London where she worked as a housemaid and at McDonald’s. At the age of 18, British photographer Terence Donovan helped her start a successful career in modeling. Now she is an activist against female genital mutilation. The film became a part of many anti-FGM campaigns in schools, universities, film festivals and other events across the globe. A number of organizations, including the UNHCR, UNICEF and embassies, have displayed “Desert Flower” as a profound statement in the fight against FGM.

FGM has impacted more than 200 million women around the world. According to UNICEF, it affects around 30 million girls across Africa. That is why, in 2002, Waris Dirie established the Desert Flower Foundation which aims to end female genital mutilation, educate people and save girls from it. The foundation also covers the cost of surgery and medical treatment for FGM victims. In 2013, in association with the hospital Waldfriede in Berlin, it opened the Desert Flower Center to provide quality health care for FGM victims. In addition, the organization created a project called Save a Little Desert Flower which saved 1,000 girls in Africa by entering into agreements with the parents to ensure their integrity. It started with the Together for African Women initiative in Ethiopia in 2011. The project gives women education and provides them with work skills that will allow them to become financially independent.


“Lion” is a film based on the story of Saroo Brierley. Growing up poor in India, he and his brother had to provide their family with money. In 1986, when Saroo was 5 years old, he fell asleep on the train while he was waiting for his brother. The train took him many miles away from his home to Calcutta. He had to survive on the streets, lived in an orphanage and then ended up in an Australian family. As an adult, he got a chance to find his family in India using Google Earth. He spent five years trying to recall the places he grew up in. After separation from his birth family, which lasted for 25 years, he finally found them. That shows how technology these days can do remarkable things.

In India, approximately 1.5 million children grow up without families in residential facilities that are badly managed and leave children prone to violence and exploitation. The movie highlighted that problem and inspired Purvi and Harsh Padia to collaborate with UNICEF USA to establish Project LION in 2018. In association with 12 state governments and the national Government of India, the project has developed non-institutional, family-based alternative care for children. Project LION took care of more than half a million children in its first three years. UNICEF has distinguished significant improvements in the provision of care for underprivileged children in India. There has been prevalent adoption of more child-friendly care models. The quality of care at children’s facilities has increased, especially when handling the special requirements and cases of children in a suitable and efficient manner.


“Capharnaüm” finishes off the list of films that highlight problems in developing countries. It is a story about a Lebanese boy named Zain who sues his parents for giving him life. Zain’s family is poor so they force their 11-year-old daughter Sahar into an arranged marriage with a man twice her age Assad. That decision makes Zain run away from home and survive on the streets of Beirut. At some point, he lives with another illegal immigrant Rahil and takes care of her baby Yonas. However, no matter how street-smart Zain is, he still ends up in jail and becomes another victim of the system because he does not have identity papers.

“Capharnaüm” is a docudrama which means that it mixes fiction with documentary. For instance, the events illustrated in the film have actually happened but the form is like a fictional movie. The boy who played Zain is also a Syrian refugee who has been working since he can remember. The actress who played Rahil did not have identity papers like her character and was arrested two days after she portrayed it in the film. The actors lived what they showed on the screen. Director Nadine Labaki carefully researched the situation in Beirut for four years. She talked to many kids in youth jails and detention centers. The film moved some people in Lebanon so they started a discussion and created a movement for change.

As Nadine Labaki said in an interview with The Guardian, “For me, film-making and activism are one and the same thing. I really do believe cinema can effect social change.” That is why it is important to learn by watching films that highlight problems in developing countries. It can start a conversation and affect change.

– Elizaveta Medvedkina
Photo: Flickr